Dubai: Faiq Huseynov has never looked past sports. After spending the past 22 years as a humble masseur in varied capacities at a number of UAE football clubs, Husenyov knows the nation’s soccer scene better than most.
From attending to the likes of former Italian captain Fabio Cannavaro and Portugal’s Ricardo Quaresma to Asian Footballer of the Year Ahmad Khalil, Huseynov is left nostalgic recalling all the “friends” that he has made over more than two decades in the country.
“Honestly, I don’t like to think past football,” he recalls, while narrating his treasure trove of experiences in the UAE.
“One of the most humbling experiences is to have a former player coming up to me and wish me well while recalling how much I have been of assistance to him during his career. That’s when I realise that my presence here is not just about football, but something more personal and dear.”
Huseynov’s journey began back home in Baku, Azerbaijan, where he first played basketball and then earned a Diploma in Sports Medicine in 1988. After shuttling between some top clubs such as Spartak Moscow and Dinamo Kiev and the national football team, Huseynov made his way to the UAE on the invitation of the newly formed Dubai Club on the Dubai-Hatta road.
“Dubai Club was in Division 2 that time and I came to the UAE on the invitation of an Azerbaijani defender, Deni Gaisumov. That was in 1998, and I can still remember my first match as Dubai Club and Hatta played out a goalless draw,” he says.
Dubai Club worked their way up to the top division of the UAE Football League and Huseynov very soon began experiencing bigger challenges. His calm nature helped him come to terms with these, and by 2006, the Azerbaijan national found himself working with a succession of top-class players and coaches after moving to Al Ahli Club.
“Quique Sanchez Flores, Cosmin Olaroiu, Fabio [Cannavaro], Ricardo [Quaresma], Grafite and, of course, our own UAE stars like Faisal and Ahmad Khalil, Bashir Saeed and Esmail Al Hammadi. It has been one big journey for me over the years,” Huseynov says.
“I feel so lucky and blessed to work with all these top world-famous personalities in football. I have developed some good friendships over the years with so many of them. And when one of them calls me and inquires about me, I feel truly honoured and blessed.”
Being at one club for so many years has had its advantages as Huseynov found Khalifa Saeed Sulaiman, Chairman of the Higher Committee that oversaw the merger of three Dubai clubs — Al Shabab, Dubai Club and Al Ahli Club — as one of his biggest supporters. “He has always backed me and I feel obligated to give my best for this club,” Huseynov says.
Football in the UAE adopted a professional model from the start of the 2008-09 season and Huseynov was part of the celebrations as Al Ahli celebrated their first league title of the new era. “For anyone outside it’s just football. But for those involved with the team, it’s all about teamwork. Perhaps, spectators and fans do not realise this aspect of sport,” Huseynov says.
“Be it during training sessions or during matches, everyone is an important part of the team. It’s not just about the 25 players who are in the squad, but it’s also about each and everyone, including the coach, his assistants, the medical personnel and even the administrative staff. This is the entire team that is ultimately responsible for the success of a club.
“But for me who has been blessed to work with some of the biggest and best names in sport, I feel that we are all part of the team that will eventually win the match. Each one does his own job, fulfils his own duties to the best of his abilities and the end result is the success.”
Given his varied experiences, Huseynov has a real close-up look at Emirati football over the years. “The UAE people love their football, and I have seen some of the greatest Emirati players over the past two generations,” he says. “I am confident that with a new president in charge at the UAE Football Association [Shaikh Rashid Bin Humaid Al Nuaimi], the UAE national team has the potential to evolve even further. The new leader can embrace the changes and show a fresh direction.”